Donald Trump is the contemporary master of a little-used literary gadget: the narcissistic third person. On the indictment of Paul Manafort: “There’s not really a talk about of Trump in there.” On the possibility of Russian interference in the 2016 election: “Probably Trump just ran a great campaign?” Even his initial tweet, back in the innocent days of 2009, employed this peculiar mirror-gazing perspective: “Be sure to tune in and watch Donald Trump on Late Night with David Letterman ….”
Like so much else that Mr. Trump favors – reddish baseball hats, caps lock – discussing oneself in the third person features, these past few years, come to seem tainted, practically pathological. It features entered the cultural lexicon – suitable only for the toweringly grandiose (LeBron) or the deeply immature (Elmo). When the authors of a drama desire to signal that somebody is soon to die of tuberculosis, they possess her cough blood into a handkerchief. When they desire to signal that somebody suffers from a terminal circumstance of self-respect, they have him refer to himself in the third person.
Which accounts for the sheepishness I feel when I inform you of my recent discovery: that discussing yourself in the third person is, well, sort of wonderful. Lately I’ve been travelling with an inner monologue that runs something similar to this: Ben is feeling tired; Ben is taking into consideration blowing off the gym; Ben is feeling regret about eating that whole baguette while walking home from the supermarket.
And I’ve not merely found my ego swelling from all this Ben-ing. I’ve as well found it tamer than previously, as manageable and moderate as a baby panda. Much as it pains me to admit, I’ve come to believe that our egotist-in-chief may possess stumbled onto something profound.
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Allow me to explain.
At the core of Buddhism is the concept of non-self. The idea, basically, is that the thing you imagine of as you – the entity whose well-being occupies your every waking thought – is an illusion. This doesn’t mean that your body is usually a hologram – that Uniqlo-clad lump of meats is usually indisputably there. What non-self refers to, rather, is the thing that you imagine of as your true self – the little captain who lives somewhere behind your forehead and appears out through your eyes. The thing that says, “I am hoping people like me” or “I can’t stand another minute upon this train” – that, Buddhists believe, is usually what has to be viewed through and rooted out.
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This teaching, Buddhists insist, has the potential to eliminate your suffering entirely. Nonetheless it is destined to remain so very much inert philosophy, no more life-changing than the quadratic equation, until you’re able to truly glimpse your little impostor, to fix him in your mental cross hairs. Which is usually where the Trumpian third person comes in.